context in reading

The Importance of Context in Reading

October 23, 2023
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Imagine if you could read between the lines, decipher hidden meanings, and understand every nuance of what you’re reading. Just think of all the advanced books and articles you could read with ease! 

Well, you don’t have to imagine it—you can do this through context.

And in this article, we’ll dive into the specific steps you can take to transform from a passive reader into an expert of the art of reading.

The Importance of Context in Reading Comprehension

Context refers to the words and ideas surrounding a particular word or phrase. It's crucial for comprehension because it provides clues that help you make sense of what you're reading.

Let’s start here: Consider the word "bank." Depending on the context, it could refer to a financial institution or the edge of a river. Understanding the context from the surrounding sentence helps you determine the intended meaning of the word.

So not only does context help you understand individual words, but it also helps you interpret and make sense of entire sentences and paragraphs. Pretty cool, right? 

As another example, think about the following sentence: "I saw her duck." Without context, it's difficult to know what "duck" means. However, with some additional context such as, "I saw her duck as a car drove by," it becomes more clear that "duck" means to lower one's head or body in order to avoid being hit rather than referring to an animal.

To summarize, understanding context is an essential skill for reading comprehension. It helps you make sense of individual words, sentences, and entire passages, enabling you to extract new meaning from written texts.

Decoding Context Clues

One way to further your understanding of context is through context clues. Here are some different types of context clues that can boost your understanding of what you’re reading: 

  • Definition clues: These exist when the meaning of an unknown word is provided within the text. For example: "The geologist studied the strata, or layers of rock, to learn more about the Earth's history." Here, the definition of "strata" is provided within the sentence.
  • Example clues: These happen when examples are given to help clarify the meaning of an unknown word. For example: "The restaurant was bustling with activity: waiters rushing back and forth, dishes clattering, and patrons chatting noisily." Here, the examples provided can help you understand that "bustling" means busy and full of activity.
  • Comparison clues: These types of clues explain situations in which the meaning of an unknown word is clarified by comparing it to something else. For example: "The new teacher was even stricter than Mr. Smith." Here, the comparison to Mr. Smith can help you understand that the new teacher is extremely strict.
  • Contrast clues: These exist when the meaning of an unknown word is clarified by contrasting it with something else. For example: "The apartment was small but cozy." Here, the contrast between "small" and "cozy" helps readers understand that the apartment is comfortable despite its size.
  • Inference clues: These happen when prior knowledge and the information provided in the text is used to draw conclusions. For example: "The detective examined the crime scene carefully." This can help you infer that the detective is investigating a crime.

As you can imagine, by using definition, example, comparison, contrast, and inference clues, you can fill in a lot of knowledge gaps. And in turn, identifying these clues will improve your overall understanding of the text and reading ability. 

6 Effective Reading Strategies to Try 

You know the feeling. You’re reading something, but it’s just looking like words on a page, impossible to comprehend. Luckily, context is an effective way to improve comprehension and analytical abilities. Here are some more specific strategies that can help you better avoid this scenario in the future:

  1. Read the text multiple times: It might feel monotonous, but reading the text over and over can significantly improve your comprehension of it, and help you identify key themes, patterns, and ideas. This can lead to a deeper understanding of both the context and message of the text.
  2. Make connections within the text: Connecting ideas between different parts of a text can help you draw conclusions about its meaning. For example, a character's behavior in one chapter to their behavior in another chapter or recognizing patterns in the use of certain words or phrases can provide valuable insights into the context of the text.
  3. Use phonemic awareness: By improving phonemic awareness—or your ability to recognize sounds in words—you can better understand unfamiliar words and improve your overall comprehension skills. To improve your phonemic awareness, try sounding out or decoding words by identifying prefixes and suffixes. 
  4. Use working memory: Working memory is the ability to remember information while completing a task. By improving working memory, you can better retain important details from a text and use them to draw conclusions about its meaning.
  5. Reading aloud: Reading aloud is also an effective way to improve reading and writing skills. It allows you to practice word recognition, read smoothly, and improve fluency. 
  6. Using visual aids: Visual aids such as graphic organizers or videos can also be helpful for demonstrating context. 

We get it: there’s a lot that goes into understanding the text. But with these tools, good reading comprehension is so much easier and more rewarding. 

Textual Analysis: Beyond the Words

Now that you have the tools to understand the words on the page, there’s also an opportunity to read between the lines. When you consider the historical and cultural context of the text, you can better understand the intended meaning of the text and its significance.

Best practices for textual analysis depend on the type of material being analyzed. But here’s a starting point that applies to most everything you read:

  1. Analyze the author's background and historical context: It’s important to understand the voice behind a text. An author's biography, cultural background, and historical context can provide valuable insights into their motivations and perspective. For example, knowing that George Orwell lived during a time of political upheaval in Europe can help readers understand his anti-authoritarian stance in works such as "1984" and "Animal Farm."
  2. Examine the language and style of the text: Is the text full of business jargon, or abbreviations like jk and lol? The language and style used in a text can provide clues about its intended audience and purpose. 
  3. Consider the intended audience and purpose of the text: Try to figure out who the intended audience was, what message the author was trying to convey and why they wrote the text. This can provide valuable insights into the significance of a text. For example, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" was written to introduce young children to the concept of metamorphosis and to encourage their early literacy and counting skills in a fun and colorful way.

As you can see, understanding what’s not written on the page can provide a more holistic view of the text and ultimately make you a stronger, more informed reader.

Using the Elevate App to Improve Contextual Reading

Ready to take your reading skills to the next level? Look no further than the Elevate app.

Elevate is a brain training app that includes a variety of engaging games and challenges designed to boost your analytical abilities—including improving your reading skills and nailing a more efficient reading process—and it adapts to your skill level and performance over time.

With several games designed to improve your contextual reading skills, you’ll gradually learn to recognize different types of context clues and push past reading difficulties you may encounter. For example, in Elevate’s Context game, you’ll get firsthand practice at using context clues to understand the meaning of new words. 

But don’t just take our word for it. Check out what these Elevate members had to say:

  • “I am 61, and I have improved in everything I do thanks to Elevate. I absolutely recommend it. It has helped my reading comprehension skills, and I’m understanding more of what I am reading and writing. It’s the best part of my day!”
  • “Having retired, I felt I needed some mental exercises to maintain and possibly improve my reading skills. Elevate has done that and, it’s FUN!”

Start Elevating Your Reading Skills Today

As you can see, increasing your comprehension skills through various forms of context is a valuable skill. And one way you can start elevating your reading skills today is by downloading the award-winning Elevate app on iOS or Android. It has a library of games that can help you improve your reading comprehension, practice decoding unfamiliar words, and more. 

So what are you waiting for? Start your journey to becoming a more skilled reader by downloading Elevate today! 

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